Thursday, August 27, 2009

Clothes make the man

Tonight I took four large Hefty trash bags of my sons' old clothes to the Thrift Store. When I pulled up at the back of the building, the man taking donations gave my old Volvo a long look and probably pegged me as more of a Thrift Store consumer than a donor. (Actually, later I did purchase a rare 3-liter CorningWare casserole for my collection.)

The last trash bag had 14 shirts and sweaters. They came to America from all over the world:

Bangladesh (three)
Viet Nam
Sri Lanka
Pakistan (three)
Italy -- this was a nice wool sweater, probably a gift from somebody

The shirt from India had been imported under the "American Outpost" label. Okay, with all of the outsourcing, I suppose India can be considered a kind of American outpost.

The donated shirts were in fine condition; some looked brand new, as if my sons had declared them unstylish during the drive home from the clothing store and immediately relegated them to the back of the closet. My own wardrobe should look so good.

I have to adhere to the corporate "business casual" standard of apparel at work, but I dress down at home. And when I go for one of my long walks, I typically don clothes straight from Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath -- faded jeans, a red and white plaid shirt, and a straw hat that looks like I tried to bend it back into shape after sitting on it. When I walk downtown, this outfit serves as camouflage. None of the panhandlers recognize me as a middle-class sucker to be hit up for spare change. Instead, they see me as one of their own, they smile and say howdy, they ask me if I have a cigarette to spare. I have often thought about carrying a pack of cigarettes with me, just to be neighborly.

John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley:

"When I was very young and the urge to be someplace was on me, I was assured by mature people that maturity would cure this itch. When years described me as mature, the remedy prescribed was middle age. In middle age I was assured that greater age would calm my fever and now that I am fifty-eight perhaps senility will do the job. Nothing has worked.... In other words, I don’t improve, in further words, once a bum always a bum."